Introduction to Inkscape, the Free Vector-Based Graphics Editor

This free image editor is perfect for designers on a budget

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Inkscape is the open-source community's alternative to Adobe Illustrator, the accepted industry standard tool for the production of vector-based graphics. Inkscape is a generally credible alternative for anyone whose budget can't stretch to Illustrator, although with a couple of limitations.

Inkscape can be downloaded from the official Inkscape website.

Highlights of Inkscape

Inkscape has an impressive tool and feature set, including:

  • Clear and user-friendly interface
  • Learning curve could be shallow or relatively steep depending on the user's requirements
  • 3D Boxes tool allows quick drawing and editing of boxes with perspective
  • Bezier Curves tool allows the drawing of complex shapes
  • Powerful path options to allow the production of complex shapes through combining paths
  • Layer transparency effects
  • Apply Gaussian Blur to objects
  • Save files in several important formats including the open SVG standard, EPS, PDF and PostScript
  • Effects menu to automatically produce useful and unusual elements to use in designs

Everyone who is interested in free and open-source graphics software seems to have heard of GIMP, but Inkscape doesn't enjoy such a following. That is probably because at first glance GIMP appears to be able to do most things that Inkscape can, but Inkscape cannot be used to edit photos.

Why Use Inkscape?

While it may appear that GIMP is an all-around tool that does Inkscape's job and more, there is a key difference between the two applications. GIMP is a pixel-based editor and Inkscape is vector-based.

Vector-based image editors, like Inkscape, produce graphics that can be resized infinitely without any loss of image quality. For example, a company logo may need to be used on a business card and the side of a truck and Inkscape can produce a graphic that can be scaled and used for both purposes without loss of image quality.

If you were to use GIMP to produce a similar logo for a business card, that same graphic couldn't then be used on the truck as it would appear pixelated when increased significantly in size. A new graphic would need to be produced specifically for the new purpose.

The Limitations of Inkscape

As mentioned earlier, Inkscape does suffer from a couple of significant limitations, though these should only really affect those working professionally in graphic design. While a powerful application, it doesn't match the full range of tools of Illustrator, with some features, such as the Gradient Mesh tool, having no comparative tool in Inkscape. Also, there is no inbuilt support for PMS colors which may make life a little more complicated for designers producing spot color work. In most cases, these points shouldn't detract from your usage and enjoyment of Inkscape.

System Requirements

Inkscape is available for Windows (2000 onwards), Mac OS X (10.4 Tiger onwards) or Linux. The Inkscape site doesn't publish minimum system resources required, but earlier versions were reported to run successfully on systems with 1 GHz processors and 256 MB RAM, though obviously, the software will run more smoothly on more powerful systems.

Support and Training

Inkscape has a Wiki site set up to offer a range of information and advice for Inkscape users. There is also the unofficial Inkscape Forum which is an excellent place to ask questions and find more information. Lastly, you can type 'Inkscape tutorials' into your favorite search engine to find all sorts of interesting websites, such as which has a wide range of tutorials for new users to get started with Inkscape.

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